Successful Texans Spend Senior Years Trying To Help Africans

At a time when many would relax, lifelong friends make a difference in Swaziland.

Published on: Apr 20, 2010
A couple of old-timers by their own admission don't have a lot of time for the golf course much less a rocking chair.  When not back home in Texas, you may find them for extended periods in the southern part of Africa trying to help others to learn how to help themselves and improve their miserable living conditions.

Dr. Ira Hill of Austin and Wendell Kent of Sweetwater have known each other since they were boyhood friends in
Nolan County. Hill, 75, retired after a highly distinguished career as a biochemist. Kent long has been an innovator in the Texas cattle industry.

About 5 years ago, Hill contacted
Kent and asked if he'd be interested in helping with an agricultural project at a small Christian Bible School in Manzini, Swaziland, Africa. Subsequently, Kent made a trip to Africa, and seeing the ongoing effort, he got interested in the project, and the benevolent work Hill and his wife June were doing to help the people of Swaziland toward self-sufficiency.

Hill was able to establish a program at the school called SEED. The acronym stands for Sustainable-Economic-Effective-Demonstration.

This is an "Education-by-Demonstration" enabling effort designed to help small-plot farmers in
Swaziland. Over the past 5 years, Hill has been able to establish SEED firmly at the school there.

What's more, Hill has been able to elevate the former 2-year Bible school to
African Christian College. The new college offers a full four-year curriculum with a college degree.

Kent notes the SEED program continues to evolve, such as the establishment of a 14,000 Macadamia nut tree farm. The farm's production will find a market in the United States.

Large-plot gardening as well as broiler production also provides food for students.

During 2009, Hill and Kent began development of a certified seed corn (maize) operation.

In livestock, students also are working with a small herd of meat goats.

A better way of life
Why bother? These senior citizens say it's simply the right thing to do.

"All of this was begun in order to teach the poor people of
Africa a better way of life, and to help them become more self sufficient in providing better nutrition for their family," Kent says.

He adds that most of the people involved in the SEED project at
Swaziland are from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Weather is a challenge.

"Rains in southern
Africa are very seasonal," Hill observes. "You have the rainy season, and then it just dries up."

So now Hill and Kent are helping teach the Swazi farmers how to use drip irrigation to stretch water and also to "fertigate" by applying fertilizer through drip.

Kent has started working on feed additives for livestock rations, in teaching Swazi students how to use cottonseed burs, wheat, Bermuda grass, and so forth.

"Essentially, we're trying to teach them to change from range feeding to a feedlot-like setting,"
Kent notes.

They also hope to cross native goats with Boer goats to give them greater scale and muscling.

"Lack of protein is one of the big problems for the children growing up,"
Kent says. "With goat meat and (goat) milk too, they can get their protein."

"But they have to eat their meat almost immediately because their homes don't have refrigeration," Hill points out.

There are some cattle. Swazi youth go out and harvest thatch grass—the same as the Swazi people use for their rooftops—and bundle it.  Then they feed it to cattle. 
Kent currently is using his nutrition knowledge in an effort to make the thatch grass more palatable and nutritious for the livestock.

Hill says whether it's teaching the Swazi students to raise better crops in a more efficient and productive way—or doing the same with livestock—the whole key with Swazi people is the "demonstration."  Much of that has to do with overcoming a myriad of age-old superstitions and learning modern agriculture techniques.

"For example, they must see with crops through field demonstrations," Hill says.

AIDS wreaks havoc
Despite all the diligent work by
Hill, Kent and others, HIV/AIDS is an enormous problem in Swaziland.

Just this spring 2010, the head of the United Nations Joint Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) called for a greater response to the disease in Swaziland, which has the highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world, with one in every four Swazi people infected.

Hill says the 26% infection figure actually is conservative, because that's just based on those actually tested and found to be positive.

"HIV is a huge problem," Hill laments. "They don't get tested because they are afraid to know the results. Or—if they do know they have the HIV—they are afraid to tell anyone because of the stigma."

"You have 11- and 12-year-olds in
Swaziland raising a family," Kent injects.

Hill says it is extremely common to find "double orphans" with both parents deceased.

The South African Development Community (SADC) set a target in 2009 of halving new infections in the region during 2010.

To meet such a goal, the number of new infections this year would have to fall from a projected 1.15 million there to about 575,000.

In
Swaziland, in the 25- to 29-age group one in two women carry the HIV. In the 35- to 39-age group of men, it's also one in every two men.

But there is some hope—in the children. Almost 3 out of 4 pregnant HIV-positive women in
Swaziland are receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmitting the virus to newborn children. This is considered a real achievement in education and in Swaziland's response to HIV.

Need a willing farmer
Hill says ACC now will grow its first crop of maize, which should qualify as genetically pure, open-pollinated variety seed for sale.

"ACC will produce varieties developed especially for the climate and conditions of
Swaziland," Hill says. "We hope a number of our Leadership students will become Certified Seed Producers."

In that regard, Hill and Kent are looking for a good man that would be willing to share his agronomic expertise for a while in
Swaziland.

"One of our single greatest needs is a farmer to come work with direct seed production," Hill says. "Perhaps it's a farmer who has retired, who would be willing to work in
Swaziland in a Christian college environment."

To that end, Hill has been trying to spread the word while he and June and
Kent are back in Texas from Africa

Ira and June spend 6 months of their year in
Swaziland. But they've been traveling in both Texas and Oklahoma while back in the States, hoping to find that special individual.

"We just need a good farmer to run the certified seed production," Hill says.

Some 20% of the seed production would be devoted to small plot farmers there. The other 80% would be sold to help the Swazi income.

"Inputs are difficult for these small plot farmers—such as affording fertilizer," Hill says.

Hill says the individual's title would be Project SEED director. The farmer also would be provided a nice home while there, in a highly scenic countryside.

"We'd like a three-year commitment," Hill notes. "But that's not set in stone."

Hill's energy is as overwhelming as his passion to help others in dire straits. In addition to being a "Sweetwater Mustang,' he is a 1956 graduate of
Abilene Christian University, where he met his bride June, and was "ACU Outstanding Alumnus" in 1996. Hill did his Ph.D. at The University of Texas in 1961, and also did advanced studies at Purdue University. Besides working a long career for some of the world's top companies as a biochemist, Hill also is a frequent lecturer to college students in Texas, when not working in Africa.

Once, during a break in building construction in
Africa, Dr. Hill had a 10-minute break for a "Bible story." So he told the story Nehemiah's rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, drawing an analogy to the work they were doing sawing, nailing, and raising poles and door frames that day.

His message hit home. To students, it meant they could worship with a roof over their head with some protection from the elements—just as the Biblical story.

June also helps Dr. Hill with seminars and showing the Swazi villagers how to start a kindergarten. In fact, as a veteran educator, she has written a book on it.

Meanwhile, if you think you're the person who could give some time in
Africa to run the certified seed production project in Swaziland, you can send an E-mail to Dr. Hill at irahill@sbcglobal.net. Or you can reach Kent at wendellkent@aol.com.

You can also reach
Kent at 325-668-9223.


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